Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oh, So You're a WRITER...

No doubt Shakespeare had those moments where his voice seemed like the only one in the world he could hear. The Elizabethan age in which Shakespeare penned some of mankind's greatest literature no doubt had its share of disinterested folk who quite possibly viewed him as a loafabout, a daydreamer, a man of isolated talent that was only shared in theatrical productions of his works. More than likely, William Shakespeare was viewed by the feudal working class as an unproductive escapist.

Time and tide has proven Shakespeare immortal, but you can imagine a commoner's conversation with the man ringing with frustration. "Oh, so this bloke's a writer, eh?" he quite likely heard ring out in a courtyard or what constituted as a pub in his time. Assuredly such a retort carried a hint of blase pacification, implying in a subtle manner he was a wanderlust dropout. There might even be the implication he was a sissy, given the trade of the opposite conversant. Knights, swordsmen, archers, acrobats and those who were capable of wowing crowds with feats of strength were more valued at-large than writers. It must be an absolute, because it's the same of future ages. Of course, Shakespeare had his share of supporters, an artisan community with which to commune and compete with and a noble upper class which commissioned his plays for both private and public consumption. In the end, a writer of any era must have the appreciative audience along with the naysayers. 'Tis the yin and the yan which seasons the craft.

In the 2000s, it's not much different. We celebrate actors, athletes, CEOs and modern day aristocrats as the upper crust elite worthy of the beacon light cast upon their every move. Last night's Oscars is proof positive, but forget televising a book awards program. After all, writing is hardly a glamorous profession; it's an introverted form of artistic expression instead of extroverted and the latter will always summon the camera's lens. In the same breath, only a handful of superstar writers in this technologically-blossomed age are placed upon a pedestal, while hundreds of thousands of reader-hungry scribes scratch and claw for attention. Writers today would settle for just a tenth of Stephen King's readership, or Patricia Cornwell's, J.K. Rowling's or John Grisham's. Given the fierce competition nowadays, that's doing rather well for yourself. There are few--if any--restaraunts or bars where writers can wait upon potential agents and clientele who will allow them the opportunity to shove a manuscript into their mits, not like the classic case of L.A. and Hollywood starlets who fortuitously served coffee and pie to the right studio exec. Pitching your writing to a literary agent today is as difficult as a major league hurler tossing a no-hitter.

The thing with modern literature is the fact our world has tripled in population since Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopic masterwork of the early fifties, Fahrenheit 451. Quadrupled since Robert Graves' I, Claudius was published in 1934 and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure in the late 1800s. It's not so hard to fathom those gifted authors struggling at first to refine their craft, much less hunt down an interested party to back their visions in print. Even Woody Guthie and Pete Seeger had moments where nobody cared what they had to say as often as they were celebrated voices of their time. Of course, they lived in an age of communist condemnation, and their association with that party both won and lost them favor, even amongst the literati of their time.

In today's world, we live in a quick-consuming social stratum. This is a 24-7 world acclimated to instant gratification. With that comes increased want and desire, which means brevity sells. We want results yesterday. We want our sports teams to always win, or they're automatic losers. If we're forced to wait more than three minutes for food to arrive, we complain and/or walk out of the establishment and spread the anti-gospel of bad service.

Likewise, we're more interested in one to two paragraphs in a film or music review. Skip the pomp and circumstance, can the excessive detailing and superlative spinning. We want fast caption headlines to pique our interest, but tell us the story with compelling photography and a yeoman narration so we can move on to the next thing in our hurried-up lives. Nowadays, we're paring down and purging hard copy books, albums and videos, placing our faith inside of massive gig hard drives to store oodles of media. Handheld tablets are quickly becoming the new norm of reading consumption. Bradbury might say he told us so. This is good for an internet-based league of authors who don't necessarily have to wait inside a slush pile on a hopeful literary agent's desk, but inhernently, it's a dumbing down of the publication process. Of course, there are so many talented writers out there who could use a lending hand which tech provides. It's a brave new world, but its soldiers have become so fortified it's hard to pinpoint who will rise to future glory once the commercial giants have had their day and fade into a next-world simulacrum of perpetual lexicon. In other words, the challenges presented against writers today are twofold due to the complexities of our current social order, but it can be conquered with discipline, fearlessness and the gift of time with which to operate.

Tell me, though, fellow scribblers, doesn't it feel like pacification if someone asks what you do for a living and you tell them you're a writer? It puts a fair amount of people off as if saying you're a lawyer, which we most certainly have enough of in this world. They too are the recipients of butt-end jokes behind their backs, and sometimes, that's what being a writer constitutes, having the fortitude to know your chosen life's path isn't for everybody, but it sure is crowded in fellowship nowadays. Like the law profession, excelling at writing takes many years of dedication. Some have the fast track to success (most notably celebrities) while most authors give up the chase in futility.

If you really want this, if you truly consider yourself an author, a journalist, a poet or a screenplay smithy, then accept the fact you are scrutinized by society even more than you are by your peers, editors and of course, your audience. Shakespeare wrote volumes of reverential drama and his society was far less advanced than ours. I'm rather certain they were far less accepting of his chosen profession, as well. It takes sheer guts to do this job. Oh, so you're a writer... Well, damn skippy you are.


  1. It's funny - there have been times that I have told people that I was a writer, and the questions that come out are, "fiction or non-fiction?" There's always that hint of disappointment when they find out I'm a journalist. While not everyone, I think for some, there's a hint of mysticism as to what novelists do.

    Of course, the internet has created a different dynamic for many writers - particularly with the self-publishing options on Amazon and other sites - there are more publishers looking to option authors that they see are already having success. I don't know if it's either good or bad yet, but it does seem that some authors are rising to prominence through alternate means - and I find it hard to believe that's a bad thing.

    Unfortunately, I believe the rise of the blockbuster might have been the single most damaging thing - a reinforcement of poorly written, recycled drivel, adapted from writers whose only talent consists of the ability to write a lot of words (Twilight), without offering anything new. While I enjoy a good blockbuster (the explosions are pretty), I would be the first to point out that most will fail to stimulate the mind and conversation in the way that anything from The Hidden Fortress, to Men of Respect would. And I think many of the younger generation take their cues as much from the big screen as they do from the scribes who came before.

    Just my two cents. I would go on, but I have to get the munchkin to school...

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Kevin! As often as we hear the word "subjective" cast our way in writing, it's really glossy lingo for "marketable," as you know. As with music, much of the greatest art being composed right now is strictly underground. So too is it with writing, I believe. Mass market appeal for literature is dwindling, but it's also experiencing a new Renaissance as you've pointed out, via the web. I don't condemn the web in whole since you're correct, it's presenting an alternate platform to be heard. The big thing obviously is to stay focused, grow with the new norm and adapt to it. Easier said than done if you're old school like me, but the inherent topic I've presented here is more or less to point out there's a superfluous amount of writers there.

    Unfortunately, that is taking some of the awe and aura of it, from my perspective. It's often difficult to engage people in convo about being a writer without feeling like you're a wanker and they're THINKING you're a wanker. Often they'll bop out of the thread of being a writer by changing avenues in mid-conversation. I've seen it so many times it's something to be cognizant of. You have to toot your horn and network restlessly, but finding the receptive channels is growing tricker by the day, I believe.